Natalya Bayona: “Tourism should be state policy, investment in education is essential”

For Natalia Bayona (Bucaramanga, Colombia, 1985) the commitment to education seems unwavering and, from her new position, she endorses the urgent need for advancement in the training and professionalization of those who work in the tourism industry. The colombian is the first woman under the age of 40 to be named CEO of World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the United Nations body dedicated to promoting responsible, sustainable and accessible tourism. “Tourism is the most human sector of all; it is the one that employs the largest number of women and youth. However, 50% of the youth who work in this field have only secondary education,” he says via video link.

For the first time in the history of the organization, UNWTO, together with the University of Lucerne (Switzerland), is embarking on the creation of University Degree in Sustainable International Tourism, Which will see the light of the academic year 2024-2025. Three degree ranges (Madrid, Lucerne and Connected) Which will become the spearhead of its efforts to reassess “accessible, affordable and quality” education capable of meeting the challenges of tourism that are strongly linked to the values ​​of the United Nations and the 2030 Agenda.

ask. Why is sustainable tourism education important?

Answer. Tourism today faces a very important challenge, which is to help the workforce to be stronger and more professional. half of the youth in tourism sector They only have high school, and if you look at their desires, 50% want at some point in their life to be an entrepreneur. This is why they need training. But tourism is also one of the poles of economic development of countries. You see that in Spain, where 12% of GDP comes from tourism. In France, which is the most touristic country; In the United States, it ranks third. Despite this, young people are not necessarily getting the education they need, and school curricula are not suited to current challenges.

s. Education, of course, is one of those challenges.

R was found. Of course, because 80% of the curricula and programs promoted in the field of tourism, to begin with, focus on one branch, the hotel industry, when in reality it includes more than 100 subsectors of the economy. You have to diversify! In the medium term, we will be very challenged to hire people with other profiles, who can talk about management, tourism destinations, innovation and technology, public policies, transportation, travel agencies or hospitality, for example.

But also that tourism today needs leaders who have the ability to work as a team and under pressure, who have communication skills and technological skills, who are flexible… Look what happened with coronavirus: Tourism was the only sector that fell by 74%. Nor can we continue to import talent from other sectors of the economy; You have to make it.

s. What are the other challenges facing tourism?

R was found. One of the main challenges relates to sustainable development, which goes beyond the environment. It’s about being able to really measure social impact Tourism not only in terms of employment and investment, but also in terms of wealth generation in local communities, in areas that are not necessarily capitals or traditional tourism centers. A process in which, in addition, startups are key (startups) and SMEs, who will be the ones to tell what tourism experiences will be developed. We can direct, support and promote the best initiatives.

Another issue relates to the need to consider tourism as a state policy, a cross-sectional priority that includes not only the ministry that owns this portfolio, but also the treasury, to increase budgets, generate tax breaks and support the growth of investment in the sector; Ministry of Education, to include tourism as a relevant subject in secondary and higher education; to the Home Office to ensure security and confidence; In addition to the culture…

s. Why was a United Nations agency such as the World Tourism Organization involved in creating a university degree?

R was found. Tourism is a very dynamic sector that is quickly becoming obsolete. This is why it is impossible to always teach the same thing, and that is why UNWTO decided to join the University of Lucerne, which is one of the best public universities in Switzerland, so that we also become a model for other member states on how to build an innovative curriculum in tourism, which will also be completed in three phases: the first in Madrid, the second in Switzerland, and the other in a mixed training format, and the UN Tourism Organization will have another opportunity to study.

This degree will have something that others do not have, because we ourselves will design the learning units according to what we think they should be sustainabilityInnovation, social impact and statistics in the management and management of tourist destinations. It is a 360 model that does not focus on any specific sub-sector, but will offer comprehensive training in the international development of tourism: those who want to be entrepreneurs can, because there are Entrepreneurship and Innovation modules; They will be able to work in a hotel; in a tourism promotion agency such as Turespaña; as a local tourism destination management agency; They became hotel owners…

s. You mentioned that education should be accessible, but I don’t know how much this is consistent with going to study in Switzerland…

R was found. The cost of studying a degree is around 12,500 euros, but if you compare it with other universities of similar quality in Spain, you will see how a private university can cost you twice as much. In addition, the idea is not that the degree is only for Swiss and Spaniards, but that it is intended for growth and that people, internationally, can come here to study it. Spain is also a pole of education.

s. How can tourism be introduced in secondary education and for what reason?

R was found. Tourism is a great employer for young people, but when you look at its place in the secondary education curriculum, you realize that it doesn’t even appear as an optional. This process is implemented in very few countries: Colombia, Jamaica, Israel, Greece, Portugal, China, the United Kingdom, the United States … We have signed agreements with three of the most important methodologies in education: Cambridge, the American Educational Institute of Hospitality and Hospitality (AHLEI) and the International Baccalaureate (International Baccalaureate Organization).

Since January we have also been working on a series of recommendations to present to the next General Assembly on steps countries should take to include this topic. the reason? That young people know, from the moment they reach high school, that tourism is an economic sector committed to the economic development of countries, because people often have no idea, and that they later consider it an option to study. Spain and France live off tourism, as well as 34% of developing countries and many small islands live off cruises.

s. Because of the epidemic, the UNWTO has also developed Online Tourism Academy, where many MOOCs (Massive Open and Massive Open Courses) are offered. Who are they and what topics do they cover?

R was found. When we created the academy Connected, During the pandemic, our goal has been to have an accessible education. The idea was to increase the way people learn themselves and to provide quality education anywhere. For this purpose, we have established alliances with more than 30 universities around the world: IE, Les Roches, Hong Kong, Externado de Colombia, Universidad Complutense, Basque Culinary Center … Everything to create these mega courses on the Internetwhich are courses from 12 to 16 hours in which people can gain basics in different subjects.

The most interesting thing is that anyone who wants to study can do so and then get the seal of quality from a reputable international university. Anyone who wants to start their career in tourism can start there; While those who already do this, but need to update, can also do it quickly. As for topics, you’ll find all kinds of content: hospitality; culture; right; Artificial intelligence and innovation. courses on how to access the Chinese market; marketing; strategic communication…

s. Does technology play an important role in tourism?

R was found. Those who work in tourism need to have technological skills, because this is precisely a sector linked to technology since the birth of the Internet. In addition, while technology in other sectors can be considered a risk to employment, it has never been the case in tourism, because no technology, artificial intelligence, will ever replace the joy or smile of a tour guide. Quite the opposite, because it is the most humane sector, but people who know data engineering, innovation or entrepreneurship are needed.

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